Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Begin with a Smile

Last week I was driving along the zig-zag roads that climb and descend the Green Mountains to a Build Your Family workshop that I was giving to a bunch of parents. During the drive I replay my six hour workshop in my head, sometimes quizzing myself about the sections and going through the possible questions I would be asked. I do all this to squash the fear that someone may fall asleep as I explain the need to come to an understanding of your own fears, anxiety, and sometimes even depression before you can truly move forward to preparing your child for adulthood.

After each workshop I give, I call Peter to report how many sleepers I had. To my credit I have only had one attendee fall asleep and that was a medical student during a lecture about autism. At this workshop the conversation turned hot when discussing IEP meetings and the attendees scribed pages of notes. So, I thought this would be a great topic for a newsletter.

I been to many workshops about special education law and the IEP process which I think are all valuable resources and information every parent with a child with special needs must become educated in. However, what I teach during my Build Your Family workshop revolves around behavior— your behavior and the school’s behavior. As a parent you have to know the special education laws to advocate for your child, but how you advocate can change the outcome.

First thing, the only person you can change is YOURSELF. You are going to be in a losing battle if try to change other people. However, you can change how you react to people.

When talking to folks about setting-up an IEP or team meeting, people will tell me, “Well, I have my folder on special education law and I know my child’s needs.” And I will say, “Ok, so what is the first thing you do when you walk in the room?” I always get the look, like “this lady is crazy.” How you walk into the room sets the stage for the entire meeting.

So, next time you have an IEP or team meeting, try my beginning meeting strategies:

  • Get there early or at least on time.
  • Leave your emotions at the door. Try to separate the emotions from the tasks at hand (I will write more about this later).
  • Walk in with a smile on your face and look everyone in the eye as you greet them.
  • Sit at the head of the table (you are the meeting facilitator).
  • Bring a recorder and place it on the table and turn it on; so you can listen and engage everyone and still have “notes” from the meeting.
  • Bring an agenda of the topics to be discussed (email then to the team in advance to have everyone able to participate and bring copies for everyone).
  • Begin the meeting by thanking everyone for coming and working with your family.
  • Ask everyone to stick to the topics on the agenda so you can finish the meeting on-time.

After the meeting, process how the other team member reacted to you, were they more or less responsive through out the meeting? Did you work toward bettering your child’s educational experience? Was there less or more struggle? Did you feel accomplished and heard?

Next week I will discuss other ways that behavior can dictate your IEP or team meetings.


~ ANNE said...

Six hours! Impressive! IEP's could be their own course! Teams change year to year and can function differently as the child gets older and moves on to different levels of development. The case manager often sets the tone of the meetings. It can be an extrodinarily intimidating process for a parent (especially a single parent) and it presents its own set of emotions because it is about someone you love. Having said that - bravo! I'm looking forward to reading(and if you want a round table chat) of contributing to this topic. Go for it. Thumbs up! ~ ANNE

*Laurie* said...

I attended Angela's Build Your Family workshop last week and was amazed! She offered years of experience in such a short amount of time! (I do not consider six hours with an experienced resource enough time to absorb all that they know!) There were many important messages she conveyed and two in particular have remained at the top of my list. The first: Make every attempt to remain calm and kind throughout the IEP process while effectively advocating for your child. The second: Even though you have a child with special needs, there are other family members that need your love, attention and support and together you must strive to keep those lines of communication open! Need I say more? Attend the next workshop if you can! ~Laurie